Down In It… — By Jennifer Shipp
Asia India South Asia Trips

Down In It… — By Jennifer Shipp

Some things are worth it. Some things aren’t. Sometimes I notice myself doing things that are worth it. Sometimes I notice myself doing things that aren’t. Sometimes I just go through life checking off entries on my To Do list. Sometimes, I slow down enough to notice the significance of little things like how trees in our front yard wiggle when the wind blows from the north or how the light is golden-colored when the sun is setting this time of the year.

Lately, I’ve been List-y. And though I look and act the same to everyone around me, my inner landscape has become somewhat desolate and drought-stricken. I feel like I’ve lost good friends and potential allies (internally, that is, on Planet Me) in a frantic push to get from here to there. Maybe they abandoned me when they realized I wasn’t listening to them. Or maybe they were wounded and I left them for dead in some treacherous mental place I hardly remember (because I was staring down at my list). But now, here I am. Just me and my list…a totally irrelevant artifact on the other side of the world.

Have you ever focused on something so long and so hard that when you look up from it, the whole world is nothing but a blur…your eyes adjusting in and out to the distance? I call this being “down in it” (after the insightful Nine Inch Nails song of the same name). And I don’t care for it. But being totally and singularly focused seems to be a necessary ritual in my earthly existence. I focus on building mountains so that I can go to the top and stare off into the distance for a moment of contemplation. And I suppose, that seems silly to people who live calmer, more placid existences. What can I say? I like the view from high places…but I live in Nebraska.

Traveling in India isn’t easy or relaxing. But I like that part of it. I like the challenge. And John and Lydi like the challenge too. And here’s why: a few weeks ago, someone asked me what my favorite destination was in all our travels. I presented this question to John and Lydi at lunch and we spent an hour-and-a-half talking and laughing together, trying to decide.

“Remember the time we arrived late to the wrong airport in London?”

“Or the earthquake in Costa Rica?

“The tarantula that crawled into our cabin in the Amazon…”

“The molding beds in Naddi Village…”

We never came up with a true “favorite”…there have been so many tense moments, scary close-calls, serendipitous meetings, impossible coincidences, and experiences that defy explanation or description. There are so many stories. Which one is my favorite? All of them.

The view from a high place is one of the things I like about travel.

But it’s hard to invest money in the Unknown. It feels so responsible to play it safe and just stay home. But what’s “responsible” depends on your point of view. When I’m “down in it”, responsible is all about saving for retirement and keeping a steady job. But looking down with a bird’s eye the view from the pinnacle of a mountain, “responsible” is more about being alive and being passionate about whatever I choose to do (or why bother?).

I always keep a hand-written diary when we travel so that I remember some of the finer details of things like long train rides, or the names of important people we meet as we make our way across the planet. The diary that I kept in India and Nepal was one of my favorites. We were sick for a LOT of the time we were in Nepal because we were getting rabies shots and, I suspect, parasites, but despite that, we laughed hard and we laughed often. I talked Lydi and John into going out with me on “sketching” excursions in Katmandu and so I have tons of drawings in the book. One night outside a little food market, we were ambushed by a group of little kids who were so excited about what we were doing that we abandoned our landscape-drawing-project and drew little cartoon characters for them and tore them out of the diary for the kids to take home. That would never happen in the U.S.

Never.

But it happened in Nepal. And it was fun. And weird.

When I walk away from experiences like that, I remember, “this is why we travel”. It wasn’t planned. Couldn’t have been planned. But what a cool memory. There was nowhere else that I would’ve rather been and no one else I would’ve rather been with (John, Lydi, and a group of squealing Nepalese kids) at that moment.

It was a bummer to get parasites and feel feverish and nauseated every week for several days on account of the rabies shots, but in retrospect it was worth it. Kathmandu was leveled a year later by a major earthquake. We saw Durbar Square before it was destroyed. And while the earthquake barely registered a blip in current events classes in American public schools, my 15 year old not only knew THAT the earthquake happened but also WHERE it happened…AND, she cared.

It matters to me that my kid cares about the world and not just the tiny group of people in her clique at school. It matters that my kid has her eyes open. That she can be interested in the world and in people who are the same and different from her. I’m not sure why, but it seems important to me. Important enough to take her to places like India, Mexico, or Egypt more than once.

Yes, we may get parasites in India. We may get hit by a moving vehicle. It could happen. I hope that if we do, it’s just a light tap (like the last time). I don’t know what will happen when we go to India. In all reality, I don’t know what will happen if I stay here though either. The biggest difference, I think, is that when I go to India, I’m very aware that I don’t know. Here in the U.S. (I’m writing this from a hotel room in Denver) I have expectations that from one day to the next, things will go mostly as planned.

I can make a To Do list for India, but I know better. I need to roll with it and let the stories unfold as they will.

For the next 5 weeks, nothing is certain…that’s all I know.

And I don’t mind.

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